Many people say that Jakarta is like Bangkok ten years ago, and as I rode the rickety train away from the airport, I couldn’t help but agree. The corrugated metal roofs of the shakey structures that served as homes for the poor of the city looked just like those in Jakarta. Do all slums in south east Asia look like this? I found myself thinking. I honestly haven’t traveled very much in south east Asia, beyond my own country of Indonesia and the excessively well regulated Singapore, so the question only exposes my own ignorance.
Our train ride cost 5 baht each. This is ridiculous, since 30 baht is almost 1 USD. Our Bangkok host told us that it should have either cost more, or should have been free, since the railway is government owned. Regardless, we jumped on the train two minutes before it departed. ( “Now, now, now,” the Thai woman labeling us our ticket kept saying. We rushed onto the train in a tumble of backpacks, not sure how “now” she meant.) Our vinyl seats reminded me of a school bus, the heat reminiscent of June afternoons when everyone would push down the windows to feel the breeze flow through to the back of the bus. The shack houses flashed past. The fan’s breeze didn’t reach us, but I think both of us were too interested in looking outside to care all that much.
Dylan, our aforementioned host, met us after we (luckily) placed a phone call to his Thai number using an Indonesian SIM card, which must have been accumulating astronomically high roaming charges every millisecond of its use. Dylan, who has been friends with DJ since they were in high school, is a missionary working with a Christian organization that teaches English and, during optional conversation groups, discusses the Bible. Even though Dylan is the same age as DJ and I, he has been with his organization for almost five years– since he was 18! Dylan was not only the perfect host, but also great company, taking us to various places in the city and find us places to sleep. (Thanks, Dylan!) After lunch and a nap, we went to JJ Market. I didn’t take any photos, except for one shaky image snapped on the bus on the way there. In Jakarta, we never ride any buses, since the kopajas are notorious for their pick pockets, and taxis are so cheap.
Our second day took the MRT and a river boat on our way to the Grand Palace (Wat Phra Kaew). I had been told that Thailand is primarily Buddhist, but it is obvious that it isn’t a pure form of the religion. In fact, the various temples looked more Hindu than Buddhist, and I saw numerous depictions of famous Hindu gods on the intricately painted walls within the complex. The Grand Palace is home to a small yet impressive Buddha statue carved entirely out a gigantic emerald, aptly named The Emerald Buddha.
Feeling exhausted from our morning tourist expedition, we headed to Lumpini Park. Since parks are literally nonexistent in Jakarta, the opportunity to lay on a blanket in the grass was way too good to pass up. Lounging by the river, we watched people throwing entire slices of bread to the massive fish, warily kept our eyes on the huge monitor lizards slinking around, and laughed at the 100 people doing group aerobics.
On Monday, we were on our own, since Dylan had to teach an English class and take a midterm, so we wandered to Baiyok Tower, which is both Bangkok’s tallest building and the 48th tallest building in the world. For 500 baht, you can take an elevator to the top and stand on a rotating platform that moves around the spire, allowing for a 360 degree panorama of the city.
After a late lunch, we went to Ratchadamnoen Stadium and watched a few Mauy Thai fights, which is (essentially) Thai boxing. It has a massive following, and if you sit in the 1000 baht nosebleed seats in the back like we did, you also get to see its intense betting culture. The boxing was entertaining, but the atmosphere developed by having so many people literally invested in the fight meant that every hit is an “oohh!” or “aahh!” from the crowd. (While I generally do not condone betting, Muay Thai was one of my favorite Bangkok experiences.)
Overall, Bangkok was an awesome adventure. We had a great host, a lot of transportation luck and variety (train, tuk-tuk, MRT, taxi, and bus), ate some delicious food (pig blood noodles, Pad Thai, and coconut ice cream), and saw a solid mix of the city (parks, temples, high-rises, and markets). Next stop? Chiang Mai!
P.S. since this post was written from my iPad, please excuse any typos or formatting errors! In addition, all of the photos in this post are from my iPhone, so please don’t judge me too harshly!